The other day marked another anniversary of a city icon that came and went by, quietly. Strand Book Stall completed its 65th year in operation. No mean feat, this taking into account the regularity with which Mumbai’s bookstores are bringing their shutters down or going the retail way.
While Strand’s celebrated, endearing owner, late Padma Shri T Shanbhag must smiling from up there that his dream is still drawing in book lovers from the city and beyond, ask any bookstore owner today, including his daughter Vidya Virkar, who runs the show now, and they will admit about swimming against the tide.
A few years ago when this journalist interviewed Amrita Somaiya, the brain behind Kitab Khana, another haven for readers in the city housed inside a nearly 160-year-old building in Fountain, she echoed this concern saying that while it’s a challenge to get tempted to not diversify into other products, books would always remain the store’s crux. Bandra’s MCubed Library, a library for children, started by three friends, Vibha Kamat , Sonal Bimal and Vaishali Shinde, is another delightfully vibrant paradise for young minds to spend time with books — read, discuss and live the magic. Mumbai needs more such unadulterated spaces. A majority of the rest offer a potpourri of products that have zero connect with books, and the real stars – the books — are lost somewhere in melee, literally.
And so, as the year draws to a close, and we look back at people and places that rocked the city, it’s a disturbing realisation that Mumbai did not witness the opening of any new library, bookstore or reading space. It’s no rocket science to realize why this will continue to be a concern for all of us who love the whiff of a new hardcover, the pleasure of scanning through lines of book piles, or leafing through a magnificent tome in the comfort of a rocking chair without the fear of being run over run over by a flying missile from the toys section, or worse, pass out with the heady mix of perfumes emanating from the neighbouring counter.
All of these have come to portray the changing face of this new-age, all-rolled-into-one bookstore. A sorry transformation, this — from bookstore to bazaar.
For a city that has always caught the fancy of Indian and international authors through their poetry and prose, tragic that it must fight for shelf space in its own city.
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY